Stones from the sky by zanya
Short Story writing prompt entry
'Twenty,' ten- year -old Marcus shouted.|
Look, Papa, there's twenty stones scattered on the lane. Papa, Papa come and look at these black stones. They're falling from Heaven.'
Marcus fell to his knobbly knees on the stony, narrow country lane that led to the village of Orgueil in the Pyrenees. He took out his tiny, magnifying glass from the pocket of his short trousers and began to inspect the stones at close range. He could see tiny streaks of white and blue, deeply embedded in some of the stones.
In 1864, when these unusual events unfolded, Orgueil was a sleepy village of about 500 souls. Nothing much ever happened here, apart, that is, from the elopement of the local Marquis Manserrot with the doctor's wife, Marie-Claire, a few years earlier. Then there was the theft, in broad daylight, of the centuries-old solitaire diamond ring from the tiny village museum. The diamond ring was their pride. No one was quite sure where it came from or how it arrived in Orgueil. Rumour had it that way back in the mists of time, the Marquis's great-grandfather brought it back from a mysterious, distant land. People walked long distances on Summer Sunday afternoons to gaze at its sparkling exterior.
By Sunday evening there were many finger marks on the tiny, glass case. On Monday mornings, Madame Thurbeuil, who came down from the mountain, to sweep the floor of the tiny museum complained bitterly, 'No, not again, these peasants don't care about our precious diamante. I will tell the Mayor that they must not touch it.'
Madame Thurbeuil was frequently seen knocking on the heavy oak door of the Town Hall. But no one answered her knock
Whispers circulated for years about who the thieves were that stole their precious jewel. Coincidentally, it had disappeared from view about the time of the Marquis's elopement. No trace of the precious stone was ever found. And so the glass case lay empty in the museum. Madame Thurbeuil no longer had to trek from the mountains on Monday mornings.
Seasons came and went. Residents washed their clothes in the local stream, beneath the mid-summer sun, when temperatures soared. Red wine from the local grape, Le Frontonnais, graced their tables and helped to raise their spirits on holydays. The dull thud of the Petanque ball was heard on the village green beneath the afternoon sun. Men with sun hats and features tanned and wrinkled in the summer sun smoked Gauloises as they patiently waited their turn.
Orgueil was proud when its residents lived to a ripe, old age. M. Ponteau, father of the local smithy, only recently closed his eyes for the last time, making it to three- score and ten. Others were less fortunate, succumbing earlier to the ravages of human frailty, hastened by tuberculosis or syphilis.
It was May 14th, time of Pentecost. At eventide, locals, dressed in their Sunday best, though Pentecost fell on Tuesday this year, could be seen making their way for evening prayers to invoke the help of the Holy Spirit, in the local church. Some carried bouquets of wild Spring lilies, of many hues, carefully wrapped in a piece of freshly washed muslin cloth from the dairy. Spring was just beginning to burst forth. Heady scents of Bouganvillea hung on the evening air. Tiny sunflower buds were beginning to push through the dark red soil.
Papa Michel reached the bend in the narrow lane. Fearing for Marcus's safety after the cataclysmic event, he attempted to move forward. His ageing legs ached with pain from the daily trudge into the stony hills for Bella.
Large beads of perspiration had formed on his fifty-year-old brow. Leaning heavily against Bella, his horned Limousin cow, he wiped his face with his shirt sleeve. As his hands trembled, he saw that the sleeve was soaked with perspiration.
'Marcus, Marcus,' he called, half choking on the words. 'Wait, wait for papa and Bella.'
Marcus and Bella resumed their journey along the country lane. Bella's moos were uncharacteristically loud and fraught as she ambled along. Periodically Bella poked the hedgerow with her large curved horns. Marcus gave her a reassuring slap on her rump, which startled her.
'Bella, Bella, take it easy, old girl,' Michel murmured, 'it's not the end of the world.'
But now Michel was no longer sure if it was or not.
Michel was startled by the shouts of villagers, men women and children, running down the country lane, following the brightest and strangest flash in the sky that the citizenry had ever seen.
'End of the world. Oh, la, la!'
'It's Armageddon. Jesus is returning.'
'Damnation is upon us. God save us.'
'Heavens are falling on us. Punishment for our sins. We should never have invented the guillotine. We must repent.'
'Let us fall on our knees and pray.'
Everybody tried to speak at once.
The locals gathered where the stones from the sky had just fallen.
Marcus was afraid when he heard what the villagers were saying. After all, Papa and he went to church every Sunday, arising sometimes before sunrise and walking in the darkness. So why would God be angry with them?
He didn't have much time to think about that as he lifted the newly-fallen stones, one by one and examined them as carefully as his tiny magnifying glass would allow.
How lucky he was, he thought, to have such a scientific instrument to examine these precious stones. He felt truly grateful to Uncle Bernard, who lived far away in New York, for sending it to him for his eighth birthday. But most of all, he was glad he always carried it in his trouser pocket, just in case he came across some interesting object that the other people in the world had never seen.
Papa didn't like it when he carried it all the time in his pocket.
'Marcus, Marcus,' he would admonish, 'you will lose the precious glass.'
Not only was there a pile of strange stones lying on the country lane but also a strong smell of sulphur had begun to float on the evening air.
In the distance, Michel could see a group of local people huddled together. He was relieved to catch sight of Marcus. Marcus was in the middle, magnifying glass held aloft and shouting at the top of his voice.
'It's as big as an orange.'
Michel felt a frisson of pride when he saw his son in the middle of the onlookers.
How proud his dear, departed Mama, Marie-Louise, would have been to see her beloved Marcus with his magnifying glass helping to explain the phenomenon to the local onlookers, he thought to himself. After all, Marie-Louise always wanted to be the village schoolmistress in Orgueil. But tuberculosis took her too early from this earthly life. A hot tear rolled down Michel's wrinkled cheek as the memory unfolded.
Some locals bent down, with an air of urgency, to pick up a stone from the ground where they lay. Others tossed them from one hand to the other. Many were afraid to touch them.
Faces turned pale at the sight.
'Warm, they're still warm,' said a woman in a pink cotton shawl, looking shocked.
The local butcher, Pierre, his apron still covered with chicken feathers from his day's work, rolled one repeatedly in his hand.
'From the gods,' he muttered, falling to his knees, 'these stones are messengers from the gods. We have to listen.'
With that, he wiped his hands and took a black stone with a vein of white and put it in his apron pocket.
'For my daughter, Emilie,' he said. 'She will ask M. Delisle, her teacher to explain these frightening events,' he said to no one in particular.
'M. Delisle,' he continued, 'is a man of great knowledge. He will know where they came from and why these heavenly stones have come to the village of Orgueil.'
Baker Dupont was scathing,' No, not at all, just a piece of heaven falling to earth.I must return to my baguettes before they burn in the oven. Or I shall not make any money in my bakery tomorrow, stones or no stones.'
Dropping the black stone in a peremptory fashion, he hastened back to his hot ovens.
Pere Dupont, the village curate could be seen in his frayed black cassock wending his way down the lane to where his parishioners were assembled.
At his approach heads bowed and people genuflected. A respectful silence descended upon the group.
'Father,'said Luc, one of the elderly residents,' it was frightening. First, there was a blue-greenish light in the sky. My grandson, Edouard, ran in from the garden, screaming. Then there was the sound of a deafening explosion. The blue- green light turned to white.'
Pere Dupont adopted a reverential tone,' we are all in the hands of God, our Creator.'
Other residents continued to gaze skyward, their necks craned, for fear of more heavenly debris.
'Father Dupont,' nonagenarian Claudine enquired,' this is the work of the devil. Can you give us a blessing to dispel the evil spirit?'
Pere Dupont, a sceptical cleric since his early youth, did not respond at first. With eyes lowered, but still able to take a peek, thereby seeing the distress of his elderly parishioner, he raised his right hand and mumbled a solemn blessing over the woman for a few minutes. Claudine fell to her knees as Pere Dupont intoned the blessing.
A few minutes later, released from her fears, Claudine rose to her feet, declaring, 'the world is going to end in our little village of Orgueil. We will go down in history and be famous all over the world, forever.'
With that, she bent down and picked up a piece of debris from the diminishing pile. Polishing it with the strings of her blue cotton bonnet, she carried it carefully as she returned home.
Pere Dupont had helped to restore a feeling of calm to the assembled parishioners. Some wiped the dust from the stones on their shirts or on their cravats.
Marcel's young, enquiring mind still had many questions. By now Papa and Bella had reached the group where they were assembled.
Marcel wanted to know a lot more about these stones that chose to fall from the sky in his native Orgueil.
'Papa,' he whispered,' let's go and find my teacher, Monsieur Delisle. He will know what these stones are. He knows everything, doesn't he Papa?'
Pere Dupont overheard Marcus's comment and agreed. After all, he had learned about God but not about stones falling from the sky.
Everyone agreed to go in search of the teacher.
When the assembled group arrived at Monsieur Delisle's tiny one-room cottage he was in his kitchen garden, apparently weeding his onions.
A sense of dismay overtook him when he saw the group of villagers, led by Pere Dupont, arriving at his door.
'Good eve..good evening,' he stammered slightly, overwhelmed by the sight.
'Monsieur Delisle,' Pere Dupont began,' what do you think of the stones from the sky?'
The onlookers waited, with bated breath, for an answer from this learned man.
Monsieur Delisle was a humble man, wearing his learning lightly.
Scratching his head and adjusting his pince-nez, he stared skyward for a long time.
The locals were growing impatient.
Pere Dupont noticed Monsieur Delisle's dog-eared science book resting in the wicker chair.
Solemnly Monsieur Delisle began to speak,' it is a ..a ...meteorite..met..eo..rite.'
'What,' the assembled crowd asked in dismay, not having heard this rather long word before.
Marcus, however, was enthralled and in one breath repeated the word.
'Why is it coming to Orgueil?' he asked.
Monsieur Delisle's eyes danced with delight, hearing his young pupil's enthusiasm for the unfolding events.
'It is a message for us,' Monsieur Delisle continued, warming to this subject,' a message about the origins of life if we can read it.'
Most of the onlookers turned away, disappointed.
Marcus and Michel were not going anywhere, just yet.
There was a lot more to know.
'Marcus,' Monsieur Delisle asked,' how many stones fell?'
Marcus replied,' twenty.'
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